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August 30, 2006


You may be aware, particularly if you have read Scott Hahn's excellent book "The Lamb's Supper" on this topic, of how the book of Revelation is in large part about the heavenly liturgy.  As a Presbyterian he was astounded when he saw for the first time how the depiction of how the details of how the saints and angels worship God in heaven are present in the Mass - the altar of sacrifice with Jesus on it, censers full of incense and gold vessels, etc. 

But he didn't say anything about harps.  Have you ever wondered about that?  In Revelation they play harps, but although there is correspondance in many other details, the harp has never been a traditional instrument for use at Mass.  In fact, the norm historically has been the unaccompanied human voice.  In the West we may have admitted instruments to some extent, but in the East they would never admit such an unwarranted innovation as an organ.

Perhaps the harp has a symbolic value which is more important, so that it's not about harps as harps, but about some spiritual reality that harps symbolize.

In OT liturgy, harps were used to accompany the Psalms.  They are full of references to the cithara.  Awake, lyre and harp!  I will awake the dawn!  Upon the harp I will solve my problems.  That is, until the Babylonian Exile.  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept; it was there that we hung up our harps.  After the return from the Exile, one might expect them to take up the harp again, but they didn't, singing their music unaccompanied instead.  Neither did we start to use it in Christian liturgy, on any official basis.  That's because the Babylonian Exile wasn't really over.

In the New Testament, things in the Old Testament are spiritualized.  Or, if you prefer to look at it this way, the historical events of the Old Testament point to spiritual realities of the New Testament.

The real Babylonian Exile, though, is the exile from paradise that began with the Original Sin.  Even though we have the Church now, we are still on the pilgrimage from exile to heaven.  The fact that the harps are back in heaven in Revelation signify that the Exile is over.

Posted by Thomas A. on August 30, 2006 at 06:39 PM | Permalink


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